The Covid-19 pandemic put a damper on a lot of progress over the last three years, but for financial inclusion it was a catalyst that drove a large increase in digital payments amid the global expansion of formal financial services.
This expansion created new economic opportunities, narrowing the gender gap in account ownership, and building households’ resilience to better manage financial shocks, according to World Bank’s Global Findex 2021 database.
Financial inclusion matters and is the cornerstone of development. When people have a financial account, it enables them to take advantage of other financial services like saving, making payments, accessing credit.
In developing countries today, 71% of people have an account, up from 42% a decade ago. (Globally, 76% of adults around the world have an account today, up from 51% a decade ago.)
These tremendous gains are also now more evenly distributed and come from a greater number of countries than ever before.
The biggest growth has been in the use of digital payments, which surged during Covid-19 mobility restrictions and when cash was perceived as unsanitary.
Two-thirds of adults worldwide now make or receive a digital payment, World Bank says.
In developing countries, excluding China where digital payments are widespread, some 40% of people who made a digital payment from their account did so for the very first time since the start of the pandemic.
Digital payments are typically safer and more convenient, and can be an entry to using other financial services. Findex data show that adults who receive a payment into an account in developing economies make use of financial services more than the average adult.
In developing economies, 36% of adults received a payment into an account such as private or public sector wage payments, government transfer or pension payments.
Of those 36% who received a payment into an account, 83% also make a digital payment, about two thirds use the account to store money for cash management, and about 40% say they use their account to save or to borrow money.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fundamental role that digital infrastructure can play in rapidly delivering services and social assistance to people. Integration of digital ID, digital payments, and trusted data sharing platforms is critical for serving the poor at scale and connecting communities to opportunities,” says Christine Zhenwei Qiang, Global Director for Digital Development Global Practice.
Globally, some 1.4bn adults remain unbanked. These people are hardest to reach – and more commonly women, poorer, less educated, and living in rural areas.
“To reach them, governments and the private sector will need to work hand-in-hand to forge the policies and practices needed to build trust in financial service providers, confidence in using financial products, new tailored product designs, as well as a strong and enforceable consumer protection framework,” says Leora Klapper, main author of the Global Findex report.
While digitalising government and other payments is the way to go, much more is needed. Governments, private employers and financial service providers, including fintechs, should work together to lower barriers to access and improve physical, data and financial infrastructure.